1. Home
  2. Poetry Magazine
  3. Poems
  4. The Toll of the Sea by Sally Wen Mao
The Toll of the Sea

Related Poem Content Details

The first Technicolor feature in Hollywood, a retelling of  Madame Butterfly,
 starring Anna May Wong

green means go, so run — now — 
green the color of the siren sea, whose favors are a mortgage upon the soul
red means stop, before the cliffs jag downward
red the color of the shore that welcomes
white the color of the man washed ashore, from his shirt to his pants to his brittle shoes
white the color of the screen before Technicolor
white the color of the master narrative
green the color of the ocean, so kind, not leaving a stain on the white shirt
green the color of the girl, so kind — but why?
She speaks: Alone in my garden I heard the cry of wind and wave
In the green girl’s garden, the stranger clamps her, asks:
How would you like to go to America?                A lie, soaked in the
red of the chokecherries that turn brown in the heat
red the color of the roses that spy
red the color of their fake marriage
white the color of the white man’s frown
She asks: Is it great lark or great sparrow you call those good times in America?
green the color of his departure
white the color of the counterfeit letters she sends to herself
white the color of their son
white the color of erasure
red the color of the lost footage
red the sea that swallows our stories
red the color of the girl who believed the roses
red the color of the ocean that drowns the girl
red the color of the final restoration
In every story, there is a Technicolor screen: black / white / red  / green
In every story, there is a chance to restore the color
If we recover the flotsam, can we rewrite the script?
Alone in a stranger’s garden, I run — I forge a desert with my own arms
blue the color of our recovered narrative
blue the color of the siren sea, which refuses to keep a white shirt spotless
blue the color of our reclaimed Pacific
blue the ocean that drowns the liars
blue the shore where the girl keeps living
There she rises, on the opposite shore
There she awakens — prismatic, childless, free — 
Shorn of the story that keeps her kneeling
blue is the opposite of sacrifice
Source: Poetry (February 2015)

More from this issue

This poem originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Poetry magazine

  • Search every issue of Poetry

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine. Search the whole site

The Toll of the Sea

Related Poem Content Details

  • Search every issue of Poetry

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine. Search the whole site

Other Information